May 172020 60 Responses

Why Can I Go to Wal-Mart and Not Church?

Because of science. That’s why I need to show more caution going to church than I do in going to Wal-Mart amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social media has many benefits, but one place social media struggles (or more accurately, we struggle on social media) is with discernment. It’s a common occurrence for people to post a simple statement contrasting two things with the intent of showing how foolish someone is or evil a political opponent is or useless government is. While people can be foolish, enemies can be evil, and the government can be useless, in most cases, the pithy statement on social media is simply wrong rather than revelatory. (For more on conspiracy theories and Christians, read this editorial by Ed Stetzer.)

Church and Wal-Mart

One current example is the question “Why can I go to Wal-Mart and not a church?” As COVID-19 spread around the U.S. during early 2020, governments made differing recommendations on how to best stop the spread. One directive was a suspension of in-person worship services in most churches across the country. Even with shelter-in-place orders, citizens were still allowed to grocery shop which meant while churches were closed, Wal-Mart was open.

For some, this is an attack on religious liberty. While the government directing the church not to meet is a dicey issue because of the U.S. Constitution, it was a wise move in this case and was not an attack on religious liberty. This is why nearly every church complied. Meeting in-person would have threatened the lives of others, specifically the most vulnerable among us

What’s the difference between church and Wal-Mart? Two things. Obviously we need food. We can go for nine weeks worshiping online, but we can’t go nine weeks without food. People have to buy groceries. But the bigger issue is not food, but science.

Grocery shopping is different than corporate worship. When we shop, we go up and down aisles, moving around people, and then making our way out of the store. However, when we go to church, we sit in a confined space for an hour. When it comes to a respiratory illness, the latter is riskier than the former. Consider this article from a professor of infectious disease and biology.

In the article, the author shows how different activities contain different risks. And she reveals why attending church for the past few months was not wise even as we made our way to Wal-Mart. (Hint: it’s primarily about the duration of time with little air filtration and a good number of people breathing, singing, and possibly sneezing around us as compared to us simply passing by people at the grocery store.)

COVID Conspiracies that Ain’t

The bigger issue isn’t the individual question–why can I go to Wal-Mart and not to church–it is how easily the answer was found. A question posted to mock or belittle decision-makers only achieved its purpose if people failed to research the issue. Not only was the question misleading, but it was also extremely easy to disprove. One Google search shows the disparity makes sense.

This is a current pattern on social media. In nearly every example where someone raises a simple question that seemingly outs the evil intent or intellectual deficiency of someone on the other side of the political aisle, with a little research and discernment, the question can be answered…easily. What seems contradictory actually makes sense. Sometimes life is full of nuance.

Why do they have to wear a mask and I don’t? The question appears to show inequality. Yet, with a little research, you can find that the need for a mask depends on the task at hand. So the butcher needs to wear a mask because as he stands there all day in a small shop, the droplets from his breathing add up creating a risk for customers who come into his store. Whereas a mask isn’t as important when the postman simply pops into the office to deliver the mail.

Why don’t these states have shelter-in-place orders? For weeks this was a question asked about my home state. As charts were shown with increasing cases and deaths nationwide, they were contrasted with a map showing the few states who do not have shelter-in-place orders. The point was to shame the careless leaders in these few states. Yet a little research showed that while COVID-19 was rising exponentially in many places, it wasn’t doing so everywhere. As I write, my county has one active case. One, even though my hometown is the second-largest city in Arkansas.

Why did the CDC reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths? This meme was showing a website showing fewer numbers of death than widely reported. Yet, a little research shows that the website depends on death certificates which can take weeks to produce as compared to other sites which are daily tracking deaths.

Why is the government paying more money for COVID-19 deaths? The implication was that because the government reimburses more money for a COVID-19 death, that hospitals are committing fraud by marking every death as a COVID death. Yet a little research shows that different forms of care receive different reimbursements from Medicare/Medicaid. Because a COVID patient would require more resources, it makes sense the government would reimburse more money.

Question after question posted on social media intended to reveal conspiracy or corruption are actually easily answered with just a bit of effort.

Truth Can Be Found

My favorite example of this social media outrage gone wrong is from several years ago, although I still see it with regularity on Facebook. A meme shows every living American President speaking in front of American flags, except for President Obama who is speaking in front of gold curtains. The meme claims it’s a Muslim prayer curtain. Yet a simple Google search reveals something different–President Obama was speaking in the East Room of the White House which has gold curtains. Why would someone post something so obviously wrong and so easily disproven?

Because it fits their bias. (See: The Ends Don’t Justify the Mean)

We are all biased. We can’t prevent the bias, but we can recognize its presence. When we understand that personal bias colors everything, we should have one response–the more something confirms our belief, the more we should doubt its accuracy.

See something that proves your opponent wrong? Research it. Don’t blindly believe it. Google it. Seek a more logical explanation. Recognize that life is sometimes grey. Believe there are fair ways to believe differently than you. If there are multiple ways to interpret something, interpret it in the fairest way possible to the other person.

Truth can be found, but it takes work. Normally not much work, but it takes a little more than just believing everything you see or hear.

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A Reminder for Christians

The previous article is true for everyone, but there is a specific reminder Christians need. In the Ten Commandments, God commanded us to tell the truth. Specifically, he warned us against bearing false witness. (See: Stop Breaking the Ninth Commandment on Facebook)

When we share, promote, like, and further things that are not true about others, we are violating the ninth commandment.

Consider the irony: some Christians willfully share false information in order to prove the ungodliness of others and, in so doing, actually choose ungodly behavior for themselves.

Truth matters. Pursue it. Proclaim it. Honor it in every way possible.

Kevin A. Thompson is an author, pastor and speaker. He writes about life, leadership, marriage, and parenting (specifically parenting a child with special needs.) He has published three books: YouTurn, Friends, Partner & Lovers, and Happily. His next book is scheduled to publish in March 2021. To get his bi-weekly email that includes new articles and resources, click here.

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